You know those random stock characters in sci-fi/action movies, the ones who never get names or any lines? They’re always spending their precious few minutes of screen time getting shoved out of the way as the hero hurtles desperately down a hallway, or watching from a safe distance as a climactic fight goes on, or diving out of the way whenever a murderous cyborg smashes through their office window. Have you ever wondered what those people’s lives were like? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Man, this movie’s interesting and all, but I want to know more about that guy who owned the hotel where Sarah Conner hid from the Terminator. I bet he leads a fascinating life.” (believe me, he doesn’t.)
Imagine if someone decided to write a book about this kind of person. The result is Never Let Me Go.
*semi-spoilers ahoy, you’ve been warned*
So the book is about a sort of alternate-universe England, where people are cloned and the resulting kids are raised in isolated boarding schools, spending all their time painting and playing sports and getting vague hints about how when they get older they’ll have to make “donations.” We learn (eventually and with no drama whatsoever) that these kids were created specifically as future organ donors, and that’s all they’re meant for. Ishiguro introduces us to Kathy, the narrator, and her friends who lived at one of these schools with her – Ruth and Tommy. As I said, we gradually and laboriously learn about the school’s real purpose, but it seems almost like a subplot, because the majority of the book is just Kathy nattering on about her school and how she and Ruth got into a fight this one time and also she had a crush on Tommy but he and Ruth were dating so Kathy had sex with some other random guys and oh my god can we get back to the organ donor thing? Seriously the whole book is like that – we get the sense that there’s some creepy futuristic stuff going on in the background, but our protagonists don’t care because they’re too busy telling us about that one time Kathy lost her favorite cassette tape and it was very upsetting.
Even when it seems like a plot’s about to start, it’s always a false alarm. The trip to a nearby town that the three characters take to find a woman they think may be Ruth’s “possible” (a person she may have been cloned from) doesn’t pan out, and we realize that the real point of the trip was an attempt to convince the reader that Tommy and Kathy have some sort of romantic attraction to each other. Ruth’s possible, and everything it might have meant, is abandoned so that Ishiguro can have another chance to demonstrate his astonishing inability to create any kind of chemistry between two characters.
And the end. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that Kathy and Tommy finally get all the answers about their school and what was actually going on, and they respond by…going about their lives in the exact same way as before.
I mean, good God. Even though this is supposed to be some sort of more intellectual science fiction, I don’t care. There’s cloning and dystopian undertones; ergo it is sci-fi. And I like my sci-fi loud, shiny, and dramatic, with lots of explosions and computers that talk.
Verdict: one out of five stars